George Lucas seems to be heading to the dark side. At an American Cinematheque tribute at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood last month, the director announced that when the first ''Star Wars'' trilogy hits DVD (probably after ''Episode III'''s 2005 release), the only versions available will be the digitally revamped special editions that hit theaters in 1997. What's the big deal? Well, it means that the original theatrical incarnations, films that reinvented motion-picture special effects -- most notably with Industrial Light & Magic's Oscar-winning motion control and blue-screen innovations -- will never again see the light of day.
Lucas himself would not comment -- the only word from Skywalker Ranch was from publicist Jeanne Cole, who confirmed Lucas' statement -- but die-hard ''Star Wars'' fans are speaking out. Philip Wise of TheForce.Net, the website that helped coordinate a 20-week waiting-on-line-for-charity ''Episode II -- Attack of the Clones'' event, says the site has received a few hundred e-mails on the topic since the statement. ''Lucas' decision is really disappointing to me,'' says Wise. ''I think if he wants to tinker with his films, that's fine, but at least let's get the original.''
Fans aren't the only ones concerned about the movies' recent burial. ''Star Wars,'' released in 1977, was one of the first 25 films placed on the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress when it was formed in 1989. ''I think 'Star Wars' is such a seminal film,'' says Steve Leggett, staff coordinator of the National Film Preservation Board, the body that advises the Library of Congress on which films to include on the registry. ''We would hope that somewhere down the line [Lucas] could release the original theatrical version as well as the [revamped] cut. It would be great for both scholars and historians. He's done a very good job of preserving the films. Access is completely at his discretion, especially in this case since he owns the copyright as well.''
Still, Lucasfilm hasn't closed the door completely on the original trilogy. ''Yes, we do know that a lot of fans are still saying, 'Oh, please release the original theatrical versions as well as the special editions,''' says Cole. ''We hear them, but we don't have any immediate plans. Our first focus right now is to get 'Episode III' done.''